Review bombing has been a big problem on Metacritic and other community sites for some time. Anytime a game angers the hivemind that is modern gamers in any serious way, justified or not, it’s going to get review bombed. The Borderlands and Metro franchises were bombed on Steam during the kerfuffle over Epic Game Store exclusivity, for example.
Now, Metacritic has made a sizeable change to site policy to combat the problem. And while it’s pretty clear that there was some impetus here to correct the problem after the firestorm surrounding The Last of Us 2, the site says otherwise. A spokesperson for Metacritic told Kotaku this new policy was not implemented “in light of any particular game.”
“We recently implemented the 36-hour waiting period for all user reviews in our games section to ensure our gamers have time to play these games before writing their reviews,” a spokesperson for the site told Kotaku in an email. “This new waiting period for user reviews has been rolled out across Metacritic’s Games section and was based on data-driven research and with the input of critics and industry experts.”
The newly instituted user review delay has some problems though. It doesn’t really stop user review spam, or “review bombing” of new games, and it’s not designed to. What it will do is help protect the launch day of a new game from getting bombed by negative scores in that first few days. The majority of video games make their sales in the first week or so around release day, that’s all well and good, but when reviews and influencer opinion online carry so much weight, it makes things potentially toxic.
The response to The Last of Us 2 is a perfect example of this. Due to a couple of different factors, users were angry. The most common complaint about the game related to the way the narrative was structured. Some players felt as though the path the story took on its examination of violence and its justifications was rocky at best. There were many gamers who felt the message around violence in Ellie’s story rung hollow or was overly gratuitous in its portrayal. There’s actually a lot of thoughts floating around this topic, but the general consensus is that rushed reactions to the story led to the review bombing. And then there was another issue which contributed as well.
A loud minority of bigots also attacked the game for its portrayal of a transgender man, saying it was pandering to certain politics. That critique doesn’t warrant any real consideration though, as the idea is predicated on erasing trans identity and struggle, and the people who deride The Last of Us 2 for having LGBTQ+ characters can shut up. There are some other issues with the character though, although these can actually be debated, like the deadnaming of the character as part of the narrative. And when I say debated, I mean in the context of whether that particular element is necessary to tell the story of that character, not whether deadnaming can be justified.
These are somewhat immaterial to the Metacritic decision though.
There are ways that review bombing could be seriously hampered, but the trouble is getting users to go along. If Metacritic and other sites required proof of ownership for a user review, it would cut down on the problem of anonymous reviews. Proof of purchase verification would require integration with the Xbox, PlayStation and Steam user APIs. Metacritic accounts could be linked to these game accounts, and any user wishing to leave a user review must link an account with that game registered on it.
Many users would refuse this policy, citing privacy or security concerns, although simple read-only permission of game libraries is all that’s required. Although even though it’s relatively easy to do, gamers would still hate it.